Emergence and Strategic Intent

September 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Let’s start with an oversimplification of what a “traditional” client intervention might look like.  Let’s understand the client to be an organization or a group of organizations wanting to do something together.  Such an intervention is likely to focus on the group defining “who we are,” and very quickly following that up with “what to do.”  The “what to do” is then followed by the articulation of a plan or strategy towards a mutually agreed upon goal.  Ok – so let’s remember that we are oversimplifying the case!

How does this change when we start to do more work from an “emergence paradigm?”  What happens when we start to work from a paradigm that defies the predictability of planning?  The question of “who we are,” remains centrally important, the identity of the group holds it together and provides a frame for its shared intention.  However, in an emergence paradigm the energy of attention is then focused on the articulation of a strategic intent.  What is this group’s purpose and what is the most strategic path towards that purpose, but most important – what is this group’s intention and how will it manifest?

Answering the question of strategic intent demands that the group engage in the question of “how to be?”  Which is always a deeper question than “what to do,” though this too has to be answered.  How will we be together in order to manifest our strategic intent?  How will we live in the world we are trying to build?  What are ways to abide by the value that how we get there is as important as getting there?

The emergence paradigm demands that we work with complexity rather than try to compartmentalize it.  There are tools for managing complexity as organizations or groups of organizations, and it is my intention to use this blog to continue exploring this approach and some of the tools that facilitate it.  But for now, suffice it to say that our strategic intent becomes our organizing principle, and when done well, in a context of relationships and trust, it becomes the tool that allows us to invent new ways of being-with – and isn’t that what social change is all about?

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  • Jen Willsea says:

    Thank you, Gibran! Looking forward to more on this topic…

  • Curtis says:

    “How will we be?” Such an important question to ask, the answer to which, whether intentional or accidental, no doubt influences the impact of what we decide to do!

  • Hi Gibran,

    Inspired to know that the theory & practice of ’emergence’ is alive & strong with your work!

    Thanks for your reflections and questions.

    I came across a quote today by Joanna Macy that relates to your blog so closely that it wears the markings of serendipity:

    “All the resources we will need arise out of our interactions, as we commit ourselves to a common intent for our common fate.” (p.55, Coming Back to Life)

    She continues on sharing that:

    “This is the nature of synergy, the first property of living systems. As parts self-organize into a larger whole, capacities emerge which could never have been predicted, and which the individual parts did not possess. The weaving of new connections brings new responses and new possibilities into play. In the process, one can feel sustained – and is sustained – by currents of power larger than one’s own.” (p.55, Coming Back to Life)

    Powerful words, principles, and strategies. Looking forward to talking further about all that is emerging in our time! 🙂

  • Melinda says:

    I dig, it G. Totally do.

    On a very practical level, as a consultant engaging a client system in these conversations, I would imagine it would be important to look our for the following dynamics:
    – “Who We are” — defining and coming to some agreement about who the “we” is. Is it the “we” in the room? in the organization or collective at the time? Might it be appropriate or even righteous to define “we” as some other collection of folks than the ones in the conversation at the time so as to include and riff off of diverse/marginal/outlier perspectives?

    – “How do we want to be?” – striking the balance (I suppose thats a good goal) between being too insular, so internally focused, so self-preoccupied in terms of the work We do, or the organization WE are together with accessing some broader/balanced ethics, standards and insights on how we can (and should) “be” together. These are just things that come to mind to watch out for. I welcome the Macy quote above in terms of figuring out our “We be” (if you will) in light of a value placed on always welcoming and inviting the insight, energy and contributions of “the other” into our set.

    I love it, Gibran. I hope we (IISC) can collaborate together — in the very near furture — to further develop, codify and integrate your brilliant sparkings of a new methodology and schema for into our consulting practice.

    Where Im from, its called, “low hanging fruit” and how sweet it is, Companero! 😉

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